If crowd analysis is ever to be used as an indicator of a film's success, it would be appropriate for this screening I attended. Walking into Honey during opening weekend, the audience consisted of about 30 girls, of which only about 3 looked over eighteen, three older couples and several guys flying solo, no doubt interested in the incredibly fit Alba's dancing scenes. By the end of the film's 89 minute run, more than five people had walked out, and many of the adolescent girls were talking about issues not pertaining to the catastrophe unveiling before our eyes on the big screen. When the lights came up, the theatre was nearly empty during its second day in theaters, mind you--in what could only be a prediction of what fate will befall this film.
Honey is the story of Honey Daniels (Jessica Alba), a young girl with a head full of dreams struggling against all odds to become a dancer while overcoming the obstacles of living in the ghetto. Teaching hip-hop dance classes at The Center isn't satisfying enough and Honey pursues opportunities to dance in music videos, but it isn't until she is randomly video taped dancing in a club that she gets her big break. Big time video director Michael Ellis (David Moscow) places the budding star in several of his videos, and she works her way up the industry ladder, predictably leaving family and friends behind.
When Ellis tries to force himself sexually on his young employee, she realizes that she hasn't made it like she wanted to strictly by talent. Ellis, only interested in her physically, has conned her into missing her best friend Gina (Joy Bryant's) birthday party, and Honey is livid.
Leaving the high profile life of video choreography behind, Honey starts to realize what impact she had had on the children she taught at the center. Seeing them vear toward drugs and violence in her absence, she decides she wants to help them pursue their hidden talent in dance. After a long and minimally inspirational discussion with her underdeveloped love interest Chaz (Mekhi Phifer), she decides to buy a storefront, and start a dance studio in hope that they kids might stay out of trouble. However, as she slammed the door on Ellis, she also cut off all hopes of further work in the industry, isn't able to pay the second payment in order to obtain her building.
Though the now desperate Ellis has tried to buy her back as his artists beg for the untrained choreographic skills of the inner city dance phenom, Honey decides that the only way to raise the money morally and legally is to have a dance recital as a fund raiser. The dance teacher and her students prepare the show in about thirty seconds of film time and secures enough money to purchase the building as a packed house, included Missy Elliot, give a standing ovation.
With the removal of a few cuss words and drug references this film could have been an after school special as its trite plot spent most of its time sugar coating the real life issues of youth on the street. There was, however, one element that stood out among the other weaknesses of the film. Jessica Alba, in what would be her first starring role in a major studio film, has obviously put an incredible amount of work into becoming Honey Daniels. Without the aide of a double, Alba conquers what appear to be some extremely technical dance routines, and she makes it look easy. Her grace and style paired with an incredibly sexy physique seem to bring some energy to an otherwise lifeless film.
Unfortunately, there weren't enough of these aesthetically pleasing sequences to mask the underdevelopment of characters and Hollywood look at inner city youth. Honey's goodie-goodie outlook, while providing a great role model for children, was so over the top it was almost painful. Her smiles and "keep your chin up" attitude didn't seem to fit the film's PG-13 rating as it was borderline unrealistic.
With the exception of the always reliable Mekhi Phifer, the acting seemed lack luster as monotone lines were delivered without emotions. In the actors' defense, writers Alonzo Brown and Kim Watson didn't give them a whole lot to deal with. It seems as though some of the story has been left out leaving only the extremely predictable bare bones of a recycled story seen time and time again. Several of the characters are so poorly developed that it is hard to sympathize with them, even when they undergo hardship upon hardship. It simply becomes hard to care.
While the film is suspect to harsh criticism due to its many apparent flaws, for any viewer interested in a feel good holiday film, Honey is worth checking out. Its sparse dance numbers are entertaining as the flash over a high profile soundtrack. Honey is a technically awkward film, but delivers an essential positive message for this holiday season that may be hard to find elsewhere.
Josh Gloer, Movie Correspondent
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